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Amazon has nearly 100,000 km of roads

Transoceánica highway in Peru’s Madre de Dios

The Amazon Basin has 96,500 kilometers of roads, nearly two-thirds of which are unpaved, reports a comprehensive new atlas of the region, which contains the world’s largest rainforest.

The report, published in Spanish by the Amazonian Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information (RAISG), a group of 11 civil society organizations and research institutions across eight countries and one department, was released this week to coincide with climate talks in Doha where tropical forests — especially the Amazon — have been center stage for their potential role in helping mitigate climate change.

The atlas finds that 71 percent of the region’s roads are in Brazil, followed by Peru (6.2 percent) and Bolivia (4.5 percent). French Guiana has the fewest. Ecuador has the highest density of roads, most of which are used for oil exploration.

The report highlights roads due to their traditional high correlation with deforestation. Roads grant access to settlers, land speculators, ranchers, farmers, and illegal miners and loggers. Roads are often built by extractive industries that themselves drive deforestation: mining, energy exploitation, and commercial logging.

The report notes several recent road projects that have raised concerns among environmentalists and indigenous rights groups. For example, the Transoceánica that now links the Brazilian Amazon to Pacific ports in Peru has been linked to a sharp increase in logging and mining in Peru’s Madre de Dios region. Meanwhile a controversial road project in Bolivia would have bisected the TIPNIS forest zone that is an important area for indigenous groups and conservation until it was canceled earlier this year.

The atlas also highlights other developments in the Amazon, including expansion of oil and gas exploration and extraction, a proliferation in hydroelectric projects, and a mining boom.

CITATION: RAISG 2012. Amazonía bajo presión [PDF-Spanish}

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